Since the end of the Second World War in 1945, the world has seen rapid change in almost every aspect of society. The age of technology has provided ways to quickly communicate information world-wide which has challenged, either for good or ill, the way we view ourselves, the world and social and cultural norms. Many historians, sociologist, anthropologist and other scholars cite the last 60 years as being a time of the greatest change in the history of the world. We have seen tremendous progress in industry, technology, education, science and medicine. Today, we enjoy a more robust economy and more options for career choices, better access to resources and greater domestic and international mobility. Of the many consequences of this rapid revolution, people are living longer, changing careers and migrating to other locations. Although good progress has been made on many fronts in the last 60 years within society, there are obvious losses in values, community and spirituality that were once held as sacred and unalterable. The society of today is definitely not the same world our grandparents or parents had to navigate.
How can people be prepared to work and lead within this fast moving and complex world? It is no longer sufficient to be prepared for one skill and for one particular profession. Most working age people today will have more than one profession and career within their lifetime. The contemporary economy needs workers who are able to upscale their skill-sets, broaden their knowledge base and be re-employable as the needs of the market change.
The shifting sands of society and economy have brought a different kind of student to third level higher education. There are a growing number of older people coming to universities to realise their dreams for learning, achievement and career fulfilment. Many of these older students either did not have the opportunity to go to university or were not academically capable when leaving secondary school (high school).
The older university students bring a pedagogical challenge to higher education. Unlike the traditional age school leavers, older students come to the university with years of experience, knowledge and skills which provide a different baseline for where these students need to begin and what they need to progress and succeed. How can the university honour and build upon the already achieved competencies of older students? The traditional curriculum driven undergraduate programmes are not designed to provide the flexibility and creativity to give older students academic credit for already obtained competencies and to allow older students to design and determine their own course of study. In my opinion, the goals for higher education are to engender COURAGE, CONFIDENCE and COMPETENCE for lifelong learning within students. I believe these three values of higher education are most essential for the older student to be successful. Many older students come to university afraid of failure and lacking confidence within themselves. However, once older students work through their fears and begin to make progress, their confidence grows and they begin to build upon their already achieved competencies – success begets success.
Many United States soldiers enrolled in universities in the 1970s after the end of the Vietnam War. Universities were ill prepared to work with these older and experienced students. In 1972, DePaul University in Chicago started the School for New Learning (SNL) to address the unique needs of older students. SNL was designed for older students to build upon their abilities and experiences with individualised learning to achieve the competencies needed for personal and professional development. Several years ago, All Hallows College took the successful model of SNL and made the programme applicable in an Irish context and began the All Hallows BA for personal & professional development also known as the Adult Learning BA or ALBA. Like DePaul’s SNL programme, students feel welcome, comfortable, encouraged and find success in their studies. Consequently, the ALBA programme has a high retention rate where most students complete the programme. The All Hallows approach to higher education is offer courage, confidence and competence for lifelong learning in this rapidly changing world. Do not take my word for it; I invite you to listen to the testimony of our alumni and students